This article discusses simple tools that you can use to prevent overeating and develop food boundaries. It will also teach you how to navigate situations where your boundaries are not being respected by well meaning (or not so well meaning) people in your life.
1) Know Your Calorie Target
Even if you aren't about about calorie counting every food that you eat, it is good to have a general idea of how many calories you should target per day in order to maintain or lose weight based on your goals. Use a Calorie Estimator Tool to get your numbers. I like this one because it spells out how many calories to target based on how much you want to lose per week. You can be regimented about calorie counting (which will probably give you better results), or you could use it as a general tool to help you to be mindful not to go over your limits.
For example my target for maintaining my weight is 1800 calories per day. If I go to Chick-fil-A and get a Deluxe Sandwich with waffle fries and a lemonade (I love that combo!) that is about 1,140 calories. That means I only have 660 left to spend on breakfast, coffee, dinner, and any other snacks I might want - not much right?
2) Know Your Danger Foods
Was your mind blown by how many calories were in that fast food meal? It is incredibly easy to overeat if you don't know the calorie content of the foods you are eating. This step is about educating yourself about your danger foods. 'Danger' meaning high or empty calorie foods that you like to eat (no need to watch out for how many carrots or celery sticks you consume!). High calorie foods include avocados, eggs, condiments like mayo or ranch, nuts/seeds, all dairy products, fatty meats, chocolate, oils, beans, and wheat products. Empty calorie foods have calories, but don't have much if any nutritional value in terms of vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats, or fiber. Those include things like deep fried foods, chips, french fries, sugar, alcohol, desserts (cookies, cake, ice cream, etc), soda, margarine, shortening, and syrup.
Now that you know more about high and empty calorie foods, which of those do you tend to eat? Take a look at the nutritional label. How much of the food is in a serving size, and how many calories is it? Educate yourself and know your numbers! I love eating Cheetos. I could easily put down 1/3 to 1/2 of a bag in one sitting. But look at the label... 21 Cheetos is a serving and that is 150 calories. A single slice of cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory ranges from 830 to 1770 calories. That could be an entire days worth of calories in ONE SLICE! Set yourself up to make good decisions by learn the serving size and calorie counts for your danger foods.
PRO TIP: Cut out soda, fruit punch, orange juice, lemonade, and any other sugary beverages out of your life. A 12 ounce can of coke is 140 calories. If you drink two cokes a day or a medium 21 ounce sized coke from fast food that is about 250 calories per day. Cutting that by itself will help you to lose about 0.5 pounds per week. Not to mention that you will be better hydrated and consume less empty calories. Use plain old water, sparkling water, or water with lemon juice/other flavorings instead. If you can't live without your fruit drinks keep the portions small or dilute it with water before you drink it.
3) Cut it in Half
When you start looking at the calories when you go out to eat or for fast-food you will be amazed at how many calories are in a single meal. It might be two or more meals worth of calories for you. If you decide to opt for the high calorie meal (as opposed to choosing a lower cal alternative) do this. When your meal arrives before you take a bite take your fork and cut everything in half. One half you eat and the other half you will box up and take home. Sometimes I even ask the waiter for a box when I order my meal and then I box half of it up before I even start eating. That prevents me from the temptation of the food sitting on my plate. As a bonus now the cost of your meal is also split in half. Instead of eating one $20 dinner you have two $10 dinners. YEAH!
4) Portion Control Packaging
When you are out grocery shopping and you are thinking about buying your danger food, buy the one with the smallest packaging possible. Instead of buying the extra-large family sized bag of chips, buy those single serving variety packs. Instead of buying a gallon of ice cream, buy the pint sized or the mini 3 ounce sized ones. If chocolate is your indulgence of choice, buy fun-sized ones. I think you get the picture here: smaller portions means it will be easier to eat one and then stop before you overeat. It might seem more expensive, but over the long haul if you are eating less of it you will need to replace it less often. That's win-win.
5) Equal Parts Rule
This is an easy rule to follow for making well-balanced meals. For dinner it means equal portions of protein, carbs, and vegetables in your dish and on your plate (about a fist-sized portion of each). If you want to be really exact you could use a measuring cup or bowl to portion it out, but I usually just eyeball it. This will prevent the common issue of eating too many carbs and not enough veggies. If you go back for seconds the rule still applies. It also applies to breakfast, but replace veggies with fruits. So equal parts of protein, carbs, and fruits.
Breakfast: Equal parts Protein, Carbs, Fruits
Lunch: Equal parts Protein, Carbs, Veggies, and Fruit
Dinner: Equal parts Protein, Carbs, and Vegetables
See how this sets you up to eat at least two servings of fruits and two servings of vegetables every day?
Drink a glass of water before you start your meal. This is a simple, healthy, and no-calorie way to fill your stomach to feel fuller faster to reduce over-eating. Staying hydrated is great for your health too. If you drink before every meal that is three glasses a day right there.
7) The Spread
How you spread your calories out throughout the day is very important. I have known a lot of people who wake up in the morning, don't eat breakfast, drink coffee, and then don't even eat a snack before they eat lunch. Or people who skip lunch and then go out to eat at a restaurant and eat two meals worth of calories at dinner because they are so hungry. I am here to tell you that these methods of starving yourself or skipping meals does not work and will not help you lose weight. So here are your meal spread recommendations:
No starving allowed! Purposefully skipping any meal is a bad idea. It will encourage you to overeat during the other meals and could lead to a higher calorie intake or worse food choices than if you had just had two meals separately. If you want to eat a protein shake or a smoothie or a lower calorie meal as a traditional meal replacement by all means go ahead, but no skipping. No one (including yourself) likes for you to be hangry.
Breakfast, breakfast, breakfast. You need to jump start your metabolism in the morning by eating breakfast within an hour or so of waking up. Research has shown that people who eat breakfast have a lower BMI (fat to body mass ratio). It also has been proven to increases blood glucose levels, which means burning more fat and calories throughout the day rather than storing them.
The Spread. Spread your calories out throughout the day. Breakfast should be about 300-400 calories, and lunch and dinner should be about 500-700 calories each. You can adjust those values depending on your caloric target and personal preference, but it is basically a 20%-40%-40% breakdown.
8) Identify Dangerous Food Beliefs
The way we were raised and our thoughts about food affect how we eat. These food beliefs can sabotage you if you are not aware of them. These beliefs are often developed in our childhood and are done subconsciously until you uncover them!
1) You need to finish your plate rule. I hear you. My dad told me I had to finish my plate before I could leave the table too. I think a lot of us can relate to this one! But now that you are an adult at a comfortable (or not so comfortable) weight do you really want to keep subscribing to this belief? You don't have to finish your plate. You can save it for later or throw it away. It is not serving you to eat extra food that you don't need whey you aren't hungry.
2) Food will make you feel better. There is a LOT to this one and I'm not going to get into it too much right now, but if you turn to food for self-soothing when you feel sad, bored, or unhappy it will feel good in the short term, but it will not make you feel better after that initial enjoyment has worn off. And it is likely to make things worse if you add a negative body image or lack of self-control to the mix. You need to know that only YOU can make you feel better. Not food or anyone else. It takes mental healing and learning to feel better, and that is a lot of what I teach as a Life Coach. Try to find self-soothing through your other senses like smell (aroma therapy), sounds (relaxing music), touch (hot bath), or maybe try exercise as an outlet.
3) Food is scarce. Food Scarcity is the idea that there is a limited supply of food available to you, and it causes a strong desire to eat now even if you aren't hungry. It may have been a very real thing for you growing up as a child, or maybe after you moved out of the house and had to make it on your own. (I remember eating free pizza every chance I got in college just because I had to save money - no matter how sick of pizza I was.) Or maybe you grew up in a big family and it was first come first served at the dinner table, so eating as much as you can as quick as you could had a tangible benefit. Not having enough food to eat at any point in your life can lead to the subconscious belief that you NEED to eat all of the food in front of you at all times. But is there really a scarcity? Are you sure that you can't save the food and eat it later? If you really want that food can't you make it or buy it whenever you want?
PRO TIP: Bring Tupperware to big events like Thanksgiving so that you can enjoy the meal later and not feel pressured to try every dish. And then no one feels left out because you can't get to theirs. Keep a ziplock bag in your purse or office drawer in case there are cookies in the break-room and you want to eat them later when you are actually hungry.
9) Food Boundary Plan
Boundaries are decisions that you make about what you are or are not okay with. When it comes to food this means what you are or are not okay with eating. Special events, holidays, and social outings can be stressful times for those of us who have issues with overeating or who just want to be mindful of our food intake. Events are likely to have a surplus of fatty foods or sugary sweets available. You will be faced with temptation (look at that cake!) and you will be faced with peer pressure to try to get you to eat more than you are comfortable with (beware of guilt-trips!). But fear not - there is a solution: go into your social event with a Food Boundary Plan and you can enjoy the event guilt-free and feeling in-control.
In order to enforce a food boundary you first have to decide what it is going to be. Decide which foods you want to be mindful of eating (probably the ones that you tend to eat a lot of). Maybe you only want to eat one serving of dessert and that is your boundary. Maybe your boundary will be to stop eating once your stomach feels full. It is a good idea to set a boundary if you already know you will feel guilty about something. If having two extra helpings of Mac and Cheese makes you feel terrible about yourself, that is a cue that a boundary needs to be set so that you can avoid those feelings of guilt or shame. Make your boundary reasonable and measurable.
To set a food boundary ask yourself these questions:
1) What do you want to try to avoid? (Is it a certain calorie intake, overeating a certain food, a certain feeling or fullness level?)
2) What high or empty calorie foods do you tend to overeat, or have a hard time saying no to?
3) How much is in a serving size, and how many calories is in a serving? How much of those foods do you think is reasonable to eat?
10) Dealing with Food Pushers
Food Pushers can be extremely dangerous to our boundaries - especially for people pleasers who have a hard time saying no. I can't tell you how many times I have heard phrases like "what? you are not going to have any cake!?", "you need to eat another slice of cake", "that's all you're going to eat!?", or "you don't want a small piece you want a BIG piece". I have even had people come at me with "if you are only going to eat one dessert I am going to feel really badly about myself because I'm going to eat 4 desserts". I can't believe how much other people care about what I eat!
Here is the kicker: what other people choose to eat is their business and what you choose to eat is your business. End of story. And (unless they are actually worried for your physical health) they should respect your right to chose what goes into your body. When someone asks if you would like something (and you don't or you've already reached your food boundary) start by politely saying no thank you - you have had enough for now. If that person insists or hands you the food anyways you can accept it and then look for an opportunity to put it down somewhere else so that you don't eat it. If they still give you a hard time you can ask if you can take it home for later. If that doesn't work you can pull out the big guns. Tell that person that you have set a limit (your food boundary) and that you would appreciate if they would help you respect it. This makes your stance clear, sets the boundary, and goes a step further to ask them for help in keeping it. You can say "Your pie looks delicious, but I planned not to eat any dessert today, so I would appreciate your help in sticking to the decision I made. I would love to take it home to try it." You may feel like you are being rude or making things awkward, but the truth is that if you say you don't want something that they are being the rude ones by not respecting your wishes the first time you express them.
1) Politely decline
2) Put the food down away from you
3) Ask to save it for later (if you want to)
4) Explain your boundary and politely ask their help in respecting it
On the flip side please be respectful and kind towards other people's boundaries and help them prevent over eating and food guilt.
Want to talk with someone one-on-one about your food goals and struggles! You can Schedule a Free Consultation about coaching. I would love to talk with you.
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Happiness & Wellbeing Life Coach
813-435-9442 (text or call)